I have distinct childhood memories of sitting around the kitchen table and watching in awe as my mother and grandmother would expertly transform a giant bowl of meat and these thin white skins of dough into magical meat pockets. They could churn out a hundred of them at a time, in a matter of minutes. These mandus, Korean for dumplings, would be shared amongst friends and family or stored away in the freezer for a special occasion such as the Lunar New Year. For Koreans, new year tradition calls for Rice Cake Soup with Mandu. Prepared as breakfast, this warm and hearty meal is meant to summon luck and prosperity for the coming year.
I realize that for people who haven’t had this type of exposure as a child, dumplings might seem like an overwhelming culinary project. That couldn’t be further from the truth. They are simple to make and easy to innovate and improve to taste. Think of dumplings as Asian-inspired meatballs wrapped in dough. Simple, no?
To celebrate the Year of the Goat (or ram or sheep?), we decided to make a standard Chinese Pork & Chive Dumpling with the added challenge of homemade wrappers or skins. While I have included the wrapper recipe below, the effort/reward equation isn’t really in your favor. If you can find Gyoza or Wonton skins at your local grocer, choose that option. The homemade version is easy, but is also a bit tedious.
Lastly, while dumplings are easy to prepare, it takes a skilled hand to make them look beautiful. So, don’t worry if they aren’t works of beauty. They don’t have to look good to taste good! Happy New Year and happy wrapping!
Pork & Chive Dumplings (Adapted from Epicurious)
1/2 lb ground pork (The higher the quality the better the taste)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
1 tablespoon of finely grated peeled ginger
2 tablespoons of soy sauce (I prefer low sodium)
1 tablespoon of salt
3 tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro stems
3 tablespoons of finely chopped chives
1 package of dumpling / wonton / gyoza wrappers (or see below for homemade recipe)
Bowl of water with raw egg mixed in to help seal the dumpling
For dipping sauce and garnish: Scallions, Soy Sauce, Rice Wine Vinegar
In a large bowl, combine the meat with all the wet ingredients and then add the chopped chives, cilantro, salt and a dash of pepper. Set aside.
Prepare your dumpling making station by preparing a small bowl of water mixed with raw egg to help seal the dumpling. If you purchased your skins frozen, make sure you have fully thawed them in advance. If you are using fresh, homemade wrappers, you’ll want to a clean, floured space.
Now, I have not perfected this so I will describe it as best I can. Place about a tablespoon’s worth of dumpling meat into the center of the wrapper. Fold over. Dip your fingers in the water / egg mixture and moisten the edges of the wrapper. Starting from one end, pinch the two sides of the skin together and then pleat. Continue this process until the dumpling is fully sealed. Or, watch this video and choose one of the 7 ways you can style your dumplings.
The above recipe should produce about 2 dozen dumplings depending on size.
To cook you can either fry or steam. I prefer a combination of both. Start by heating a tablespoon of sesame oil and some water in a pan (enough to cover the lower surface of the pan). When the pan is hot, place about 6 dumplings in the pan and lower heat to a simmer. The dumplings should be resting in about 1/8 inch of water, to give you some reference. Cover the pan with a lid and let the dumplings steam. This process should take about 7-10 minutes. Flip the dumplings at the halfway point. Remove the lid and let the water cook off a bit. Raise the heat and add just a tiny bit of oil if you need to and finish off the dumpling by frying the skin.
To serve, create the dipping sauce. This should be about a 5 to 1 ratio of soy sauce to rice wine vinegar. Add scallions and any other garnish of choice like red pepper flakes.
Dumplings can also be frozen for at least a month!
Plus, bonus recipe:
Homemade Dumplings Wrappers (Adapted from Chinese Dumpling Recipes)
3 cups of flour (We used Whole Wheat!)
1 1/4 cups of water
1/2 teaspoon of salt
Combine flour, water, salt. Knead the dough into a ball. We did this by hand, so no electric mixer necessary! If the dough feels too wet or sticky, add more flour a little at a time. Let the dough sit for about an hour. When you’re ready to roll, flour your work surface. The above referenced website has a fancy way to roll out the skins but we simply experimented by pinching off about a tablespoon of the dough and then rolling out into thin wrappers about 3-5 inches in diameter. When that proved to be much more tedious than expected, we took big pieces of dough at a time, rolled out and then simply cut into smaller sizes. This works too! The secret here is a lot of loose flour to prevent stick-age!